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Worksite Wellness: Setting and Sticking to a Plan

Our Researcher: Kelly Doran, PhD, RN

By Laura Hager

With the significant need for long-term care workers due to the aging population, “we need to be able to keep these individuals healthy and happy,” says Kelly Doran, PhD, RN. “The two biggest reasons long-term care staff leave the workforce is they're stressed at work, or they have chronic health conditions that force them out. It's a win, win for everybody if we can get them to be healthier.”

“How can we create worksite wellness programs that are built into the lives of long-term care workers?” Doran asked herself as she created the Worksite Heart Health Improvement Project (WHHIP), funded by a $154,000, 3-year grant from American Heart Association (AHA). Her research was aimed at creating effective worksite wellness programs for long-term care staff who experience health disparities, with the goal of improving cardiovascular health outcomes.

Doran initially focused on the effects of diet, exercise, and stress reduction and has since expanded her research with an additional $300,000, 3-year grant from AHA. She is adapting WHHIP into WHHIP-PLUS, a total worker health program that also incorporates smoking cessation, sleep hygiene, and employer organizational changes that reduce job stress based on input from worksite stakeholders. The study is exploring interventions to improve staff quality of life and health outcomes within long-term care. As Doran’s research progresses, she will explore how worksite health promotion programs in long-term care facilities may have positive benefits and spillover effects that impact residents.

Through her research and her work in long-term care facilities, Doran has identified four guiding principles that can be utilized in any health care organization or even in nurses’ personal lives to implement an effective wellness plan.

1. Set Realistic Goals

Set small, realistic, measurable, and meaningful goals that are personal to you. Spend time at the outset thinking about what you want to change and why. As you set your goals, think about your long-term vision and then the first step to getting there. Start small and build over time. 

2. Anchor Activities Into Your Routine

Think about how you can schedule wellness activities into your daily routine and habits. Consider parking your car a couple of blocks farther away, engaging in a short mindfulness activity before you leave work each day, or taking a few minutes in the morning to savor your coffee and focus on a few things you are grateful for.

3. Involve Your Network

Include your friends, family, and co-workers in your wellness efforts. Let your network know your goals and ask them to join you. They can provide motivation, help keep you accountable, and help you maintain your efforts. For example, start a healthy lunch rotation with co-workers where each person provides lunch for everyone on the team. You’ll try new, healthy recipes — and you only need to cook once. 

4. Be Kind to Yourself

Remember that wellness is a lifelong journey – everybody slips, what works for you changes, and sometimes you don’t meet your goals. When this happens, it’s important to readjust and learn. Keep in mind that nobody’s perfect all the time, and you can start again. 

More Highlighted Research

Taking Care of Long-Term Care Workers

Long-term care facilities currently are home to more than 9 million Americans, with that number projected to increase to 27 million by 2050. But while long-term care staff provide most of the hands-on treatment, supervision, and emotional support for the elderly and disabled in the United States, this workforce faces two major threats: “employees leaving because of health reasons, and voluntary turnover due to job-related stress,” explains Kelly Doran, PhD, RN, University of Maryland School of Nursing assistant professor.  

Long-term care workers are often low-income, minority women—and they’re at high risk for cardiovascular disease due to poor diet and lack of exercise. High job stress often reduces their willingness to follow heart-healthy lifestyles or participate in health promotion programs.
Moreover, most occupational worksite wellness programs do not address on-the-job stress, are designed for white-collar workers who have predictable schedules, and do not occur during paid work time, explains Doran, who is finalizing a grant application to support a trial Workplace Heart Health Improvement Project.

In a novel holistic approach based on several smaller pilot studies, Doran will combine two major components — exercise classes that include counseling on diet, weight control, improved sleep quality, and other elements of cardiovascular health, and a focus on changing workplace cultures to reduce stress and turnover. The study will follow 372 long-term care staff in 12 Maryland facilities over nine months and will feature training for supervisors and buy-in from stakeholders from different departments to promote support for heart-healthy work environments.

Who Cares | We do. | ResearchIt's not a question, but an assertion: We are who cares.

This was originally published in 2017 as part of a series of profiles highlighting nurse researchers at UMSON.